Wednesday’s announcement of the resignation of Jeff Tedford and Wally Buono assuming the BC Lions head coaching position was a shock, but also not surprising. On our Pawdcast a few weeks ago we asked Lowell Ullrich, who has his own thoughts on today’s events, whether or not Buono would return to the sidelines if Tedford didn’t survive.
At the time, I was confident Jeff Tedford would return as the Lions coach, at least to start the season. Whether he was influenced or not, Tedford exercised a resignation clause in his contract that clicked in on December 1st.
Buono taking over was really the only option that the Lions had. The team has been in regression since winning the Grey Cup in 2011 and Buono accepted full responsibility for that during his press conference. He’s also prepared for the criticism and blame if this attempt to restore the roar in the Lions fails.
“What motivates me?” Buono said. “I hate to lose. If I’m in an organization, and I can’t help it to win, don’t you think that’s stressful? You’ve got to rise up to the challenge. I believe I’ve risen to the challenge many times. Why am I here? The single most important reason is, I want to put this organization back in the proper position. You can do that when you’re in control of everything that goes on in football matters. Now, there’s only one person to blame. That’s me.”
At 65 years of age Buono isn’t afraid of the long and rigorous regiment required of a professional football head coach. He’s not able to sit idly by while the team loses, it’s not in his DNA because the only thing that matters to him is winning. He freely admits that he does cast a shadow over any coach under him, but feels there isn’t much he can do about that.
And now he’s shifting all the focus and responsibility on himself.
Make no mistake, Buono has put himself in the hot seat here. But this was the right move at the time for the Lions. With sagging attendance, the brand is suffering and it must be stabilized despite the TV money the club receives that helps them turn a profit. Another reset at the coaching position would have been a hard sell to the Lions core fan, while Buono at least brings hope. He brings the resume to fix the product on the field and judging by his press conference the Lions will look to make some noise in free agency this year in what Buono referred to as a changing landscape.
His coaching staff will be different as well, with the retirement of George Cortez and the likely departure of special teams coach Chuck McMann. Who will Buono look to lead his offence? And what about the defence? Is there a possibility Mike Benevides would return as defensive coordinator if Buono wants a change there? Lowell Ullrich and Farhan Lalji have mentioned the name of Jarious Jackson as a possible offensive coordinator as well.
Off the field the Lions have their work cut out for them. But that can be made a little easier if the team returns to winning football and let’s face it, no one has won more games than Buono.
Whether this move works or not, Buono has to be respected for stepping up and putting his neck on the line. You never really did get the feeling he was comfortable on game days not being in the trenches, and now he’s back doing what he loves to do. You can’t take the game out of someone who has made it their life for so long, and Buono is no exception.
Instead of casting a shadow, Wally Buono is now firmly in the spotlight. And he’s okay with that.